Circa 2014, Rob Dyrdek is much more than just a skateboarder who took a gamble in 1993 to move to Los Angeles and live on a thousand dollars a month from his sponsor, Alien Workshop. He’s a media personality, an entrepreneur and a visionary who is changing the face and future of professional street skating competitions. He’s also just as affable as he appears on television, as XGames.com recently found out.
XGames.com: You are very busy these days, involved with all sorts of media and philanthropy and growing Street League into something that’s destined for the Olympics. How are you juggling it all, and where do you see your focus shifting in the near and long term?
Dyrdek: As I’ve evolved, I’m capable of doing a lot of things at once, but really, as an entrepreneur and business person, it’s more about adding the right structure to be able to handle scaling all those things as opposed to being at the forefront of doing a lot of them. That’s the evolution that I’m on right now.
Safe Spot Skate Spot, the Rob Dyrdek Foundation, Street League Skateboarding Foundation. What’s the difference between them, and what’s your goal with them all?
The goal for Street League is to grow skateboarding worldwide, and building certified Street League plazas and Safe Spot Skate Spots under the Street League banner makes more sense than just the Rob Dyrdek Foundation, and that’s why we’ve transitioned to [the SLS Foundation]. It’s important that the league take over that initiative. For me it’s better, especially when we do partnerships, for there to always be a philanthropy aspect to ensure that we continue to lay the foundation for the sustainability of skateboarding.
So, ideally, people are seeing the Street League spots, associating them with the league, then putting those things together and watching the show?
It’s not that simple. It’s not as much about driving viewership as just being the right mission to continue not only grow, but to create a sustainable world for skateboarding. In order for it to thrive and grow and be around forever, it needs safe and legal places to do it. The league itself has means of doing that through education and providing equipment, to ultimately having events and contests all over the world that lead to a single championship and a qualification system that could eventually lead to the Olympics.
What does it mean for Street League to officially endorse the International Skateboarding Federation for the IOC?
I think it’s a really big deal. It’s the reality that it’s the first step in organizing and having a clear path to getting to the Olympics. It’s incredibly complex, and having the right partners and the right people in place to ensure it’s done the right way is really important. We’ve learned a lot from them, as well, and it’s important to create that global qualification system so we can create a true championship.
I realize it’s still early for this, but how does Street League intend to cultivate a breadth of international male and female talent for Olympic representation?
I wouldn’t say we have it thought out to that degree in any way, shape or form. It’s way too early for that. It’s first beginning to lay the groundwork for what a qualification system look like. How do we do a unified world championship that’s recognized? Once we establish that, the second tier will be [establishing] a proper, true qualification in order to be recognized the right way from country to country to the ISF to the IOC. We’re not near any of that. It’s still the early stages of putting forth the effort to put a plan together, but by no means do we have any of the groundwork laid yet.
Sounds like it’s an exciting time to be involved.
They just did the Youth Games in China and we sent a couple pros. That was really the first ambassador work to lay it out, but it’s a long road ahead. There are still so many things that need to be sorted out, and for us it’s about playing a part, having a voice and making sure it’s done in the most authentic way it can be, because in the end we know our industry as a whole will see a lot of benefits if skateboarding can be put on that platform.
Do you worry that the Olympic model will not present an authentic or honest representation of skateboarding to the global audience?
I do. That’s why we want to be involved. That’s why the ISF is so important and the right relationship with the IOC is important, so it’s a matter of making sure it is done the right way. They’re smart enough to know that they know who to listen to to make sure it’s done in an authentic manner.
Critics of Street League point to the fact that the field is exclusionary and not representative of skateboarding’s 99 percent. Do you agree with that assessment, and do you envision the ISF partnership as a way of making inroads to a more accessible league?
This year we did a pro open qualifier to get into the league, so it wasn’t just hand-picked guys, and we did video qualifiers before. Eventually, we’ll have an amateur series that leads to our pro open series that leads to our league series that leads to our championship, globally. I don’t know what the 99 percent is, but the reality of it is these are the best guys in the world. There’s not a lot of miscellaneous talent that just hasn’t been given the opportunity to get into Street League. It’s a global field, and even when we did our global tour with X Games and opened up qualifying to all the regions we went to in order to give their best guys a shot, not one of them came close to making the finals. The guys that are in there are the best in the world, but we understand that there needs to be a pure system of skating your way in, and that’s what we’re 100 percent committed to creating.
How do you feel Street League has evolved since its inception? Has its endgame changed?
We’ve come a long way, especially in the format and the evolution of where we’re headed, but I think we’ve got a ways to go. I still have some tweaking to the format I’d like to do to ultimately make it perfect. By creating this global qualification system, it will make the path to get to the highest level very clear. Unlike most traditional sports that have little league to high school to college to the pros with minor leagues in between, we’ve got to establish that infrastructure in order to grow and showcase how you get to the highest level.
Where do you see the future of the skate industry and particularly of the sponsored pro?
It’s ever-evolving and changing. We saw a huge evolution in the lifestyle and footwear markets, but what’s clear is that skateboarding will always sit there at the top as sort of the premiere sport from an industry side of action sports, and it will continue to evolve and grow.
So what happened with DNA and Alien Workshop?
When I purchased it from Burton, I purchased it really fat. There were a ton of expenses and money in there that I chose to stick with because it made a lot of sense, and I didn’t want to disrupt the lifestyle everybody involved had. But it was losing a lot of money when I bought it, and it was obviously a very close and passionate thing to me. Unfortunately, the partners I had got caught in a strange transition of losing their capital. Ultimately, I just bought it back and relaunched Habitat a couple months ago and plan on relaunching Alien in the near future. Alien takes a different strategy because the guys I’ve done Alien with I’ve known my entire life, and they wanted a little bit of a transition. Basically, we’ve restructured both companies and we have the right setup now where they will run real lean, and that’s the way they need to be for the modern market. They’ll be around for another 50 years.
How about you? Is Rob Dyrdek still skating in 2014?
I am, but not nearly as much as I’d like. And not on any impressive level, that’s for sure.
It says a lot that you’ve been able to accomplish everything that you’ve done and keep it relatively within the realm of skateboarding, where a lot of others have branched out to consumer goods or whatever else. Are you happy with what skateboarding’s brought into your life?
I’ve certainly stepped way far out into doing a lot of different things, but the difference is that I build businesses and brands. The other guys that have come from action sports that have reached this level — your Tony Hawks and Shaun Whites — they’ve gone on to capitalize off of having that personal brand scale out into as much opportunity as possible, where for me it’s always been about building brands. Make no mistake, I’ve done a ton of stuff that’s scaled way beyond the sport with my personal brand, but I’ve also owned a lot of brands and done a lot of stuff that stays connected to it, and that’s why it doesn’t appear quite the same.